Foods of the Columbian Exchange

Please Note: This is a special, 3-hour virtual session. Can you imagine the American Midwest without wheat fields, Italy without marinara sauce, or Spain without gazpacho? Wheat, tomatoes, chili peppers, and many other foods were transferred between the Old and New Worlds following Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas in 1492. This transfer of foods, as well as other plants, animals, humans, and diseases, is now known as the Columbian Exchange. Contact between Europe and the Americas resulted in a fantastic array of foods available globally. With the discovery of the New World, Europe secured enormous tracts of fertile land suited for the cultivation of popular crops such as sugar, coffee, oranges, and bananas. Upon introduction of these crops, the Americas quickly became the main suppliers of these foods to most of the world. In an effort to produce new ingredients for their markets, European empires laid claim to land in the New World, impacting the culture, language, religion, and politics in the Americas for centuries. Furthermore, the desire to grow valuable crops, procure prized resources, and transport them globally resulted in the rapid spread and transportation of enslaved populations from Africa to the Americas. Through the evaluation of sources from early modern books, art, maps, and recipes, many found within the Newberry Library’s own collections, we will examine foods of the Columbian Exchange and their lasting impact.